Boat of Dreams by Rogerio Coelho

Published by Tilbury House Publishers

Summary:  An old man wakes up in his house on an island.  He sees a bottle bobbing in the sea with a piece of paper inside.  Removing the paper, he begins to draw, creating a picture of a magical-looking flying ship.  He puts the picture back in the bottle and returns it to the ocean.  A boy walks to his home in the city, where he finds an envelope outside the door.  Inside is the old man’s picture.  He draws himself and his cat in the ship, then goes to bed.  Next, he and the cat are on the ship flying toward the island.  When they get there, he and the man embrace, then the boy gives him the picture with his additions.  The man waves as they fly away.  The man gazes at the picture of the boy as his candle slowly goes out.  In the morning, the boy awakens to a new day.  80 pages; grades 2+

Pros:  Wow!  What does it mean? This lengthy wordless picture book could be interpreted in many different ways.  Kids and adults alike will enjoy puzzling over the illustrations to create their own stories.

Cons:  It looks like a picture book, but this will be appreciated more by an older audience.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Published by Salaam Reads/Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Amina is a shy sixth grader.  She has a beautiful singing voice, but prefers to stay out of the spotlight.  Middle school is proving challenging, as her best friend Soojin is thinking of changing her Korean name to Susan and has started hanging out with Emily, a former enemy of both girls.  In addition to these universal problems, Amina struggles with her Pakistani immigrant parents who don’t always understand the American culture she and her brother live in.  When a conservative uncle comes for a visit from Pakistan and the Islamic Center is severely vandalized, Amina realizes she must overcome her shyness and learn to express who she truly is.  208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A moving story about a contemporary immigrant family and the struggles each member faces.  Readers will relate to Amina and her older brother Mustafa, while learning more about Pakistani culture and Islam.

Cons:  Kids may need some guidance in reading about the hate crime against the Islamic Center.

Hello Spring! by Shelley Rotner

Published by Holiday House

Summary:  Lots of colorful photographs provide an introduction to spring.  The focus is all on flora and fauna as a diverse group of kids discover flowers and other plants and hold baby farm animals.  Wild animals are also mentioned, particularly those who are waking up after a long winter’s sleep.  The text is brief, with some rhyming words and plenty of action verbs (“Frogs hop.  Earthworms creep.  Turtles crawl.”).  The final page announces the longest day of the year, which means the season changes again, to summer.  Includes a brief glossary.

Pros:  Young readers will enjoy familiar springtime sights and will learn to be on the lookout for signs of spring.  The photos are large, colorful, and appealing.

Cons:  It would have been nice to include signs of spring in the city, along with all the suburban/rural photos.

Penguin Day: A Family Story by Nic Bishop

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  When a baby rockhopper penguin is hungry, his mother goes in search of food while his father stays home to protect him.  The mother is part of a group of penguins that climbs cliffs and dives into the ocean, braving sea lion and orca predators, to hunt for fish and krill.  Meanwhile, when the baby penguin wanders off to explore, his father must protect him from a hungry skua (bird).  Finally, the family is reunited, and baby penguin gets his (apparently regurgitated) meal.  An author’s note gives more information on these Antarctic penguins.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Nic Bishop has another winning collection of nature photographs that will be popular with primary grades.  The story will draw them in, and the author’s note can be used to teach more about the penguins.

Cons:  The story was a bit more mundane than the photos.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Princess Cora’s parents are determined to train her right, which to their way of thinking includes three baths a day, endless studying of dull books, and a lot of skipping rope in the basement.  Cora tries to do what they ask of her, but what she really wants to do is play.  Certain that a dog would help her cause, she writes a letter to her fairy godmother requesting a pet.  The next morning, a box arrives with a large crocodile inside.  Sympathetic to Cora’s cause, the crocodile offers to pose as her for the day, while the princess takes off for some outdoor play.  The predictable chaos ensues, and when Princess Cora returns, her nanny is stuck in the bathtub, her mother is locked in a tower, and her father has been tied up with the jump rope.  Cora sets things to rights, but that night she tells her parents how she really feels, and her life begins to change for the better.  80 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A perfect skewering of 21st century overachieving parents.  Some readers may be wishing for their own crocodile.  The illustrations are perfect.

Cons:  Will the message be lost on the intended audience?

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

Published by Amulet Books

Summary:  Nathan Hale takes a break from his Hazardous Tales graphic novels (relax, he has a new one coming out in November) to create a futuristic science fiction story.  Much of Earth has been destroyed, and a small band of humans is trying to preserve what’s left of its culture and history.  They live in a caravan that has to constantly move to avoid the alien Pipers that travel in bubbles and devour any technology they can find.  At the beginning of the story, Strata, Auger, and Inby discover a cave filled with robots, including a robotic horse.  Activating the robots attracts the Pipers, and the three kids barely escape on the horse.  Their adventures have just begun as they struggle to return home, pursued by the aliens.  Meanwhile, the caravan has gotten wind of the new Piper activity.  There is a push to move on, but the parents of the three missing children don’t want to leave without them.  There are encounters with other groups of humans living in more primitive societies, and a final showdown when the aliens capture Strata and her horse.  The action comes to a quick finish, indicating that this is most likely a stand-alone story rather than the first of a series.  128 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Hale’s fans won’t be disappointed with this exciting adventure told with his trademark illustrations.  There is enough action to keep a 13-year-old engaged, yet it is mild enough to be appropriate for an 8-year-old.

Cons:  The defeat of the aliens seemed way too easy, and the ending was a little too pat.

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  A white cat lives alone for some time before being joined by a small black kitten.  The white cat shows the kitten when to eat, when to drink, where to go (in the litter box), how to be, and when to rest.  Big cat, little cat.  The kitten grows into a big cat, even bigger than the white one.  The two cats spend years together, working and playing, until one day, the white cat has to go.  And he doesn’t come back.  That’s hard for everyone, including the humans, until a white kitten joins the family, and the cycle begins again.  Big cat, little cat.  40 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  The cycle of life in the simplest terms, yet very moving.  Both the text and illustrations are minimalist black and white, but they work together to create a strong story and message.

Cons:  It’s a tearjerker!

Forever or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter

Published by HarperCollins

Summary:  Flora and her brother Julian don’t believe they were born.  After years of foster care, some of it bordering on abusive, they have only dim memories of their past and have come up with many theories of how they came to be.  Each chapter begins with one of their theories.  For the last two years, they have been in their “forever” home, reassured by their parents that they will never have to move again, but it’s hard for them to really believe that.  Julian still sneaks food and hides it in his closet, and Flora frequently has trouble talking.  With the help of a therapist, their parents decide the best way for them to move on is to face their past, and so they go on a trip, starting with a visit to their most recent foster home, then working backward.  As they gradually uncover the people and places from their early childhood, they find reasons to be sad and angry, but also grateful; and they learn that only by facing the past can they can begin to heal and move into the future.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A powerful book that was hard to put down.  Flora narrates the story; readers see events unfold through her eyes and learn of the past through her incomplete memories.  The characters are memorable and realistically portrayed, and the story seems heartbreakingly real.

Cons:  I skipped reading most of the  kids’ chapter-opening theories about how they came to be.

Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss

Published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Bunny loves summer story hours, but when fall comes, story time moves inside.  Bunny’s not sure animals are welcome in the library, so he decides to try to sneak in at night.  After some investigation, he discovers that the book drop provides a handy entryway into the library.  He helps himself to a big stack of books, which he takes back to his burrow.  When Porcupine drops by, he’s intrigued by all Bunny’s books, so Bunny lets him in on his secret.  Before long, it’s a secret no longer, and Bear, Mouse, Frog, and a host of others are using the book drop.  Everyone’s having such a good time one night, that they don’t hear the librarian turning the key in the door.  They’re caught red-handed, but luckily, the librarian’s solution is to give each one of them a library card and turn them loose among the bookcases.  The final two pages show Bunny’s Book Club, every animal cozily reading, surrounded by teacups and cupcakes.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  An inviting introduction to the library and having your own library card.  The pictures are adorable.

Cons:  Bear’s trip through the book drop looks pretty uncomfortable


Noisy Night by Mac Barnett, pictures by Brian Biggs

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  “What is going La La La above my head?” wonders the little boy standing on his bed.  All the reader can see is a pair of legs and feet.  Turn the page, and you’re on the next floor up.  A man is singing opera.  Above his head is the sound “ma ma ma”, which turns out to be a cooing baby.  And so it goes, on up through a multi-story apartment building.  The last floor is inhabited by an old man hollering, “Go to bed!”  Peace descends as everyone settles down for a good night’s sleep.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Can you guess what’s on the next page?  Kids will have fun trying to figure out what’s making each noise.  The bright, comic illustrations with cartoon bubble dialogue are eye-catching.

Cons:  Are quotation marks going the way of the dinosaurs, with all dialogue now encapsulated in cartoon bubbles?